The emotional moment that Ravens inside linebacker Jameel McClain had long awaited finally arrived Wednesday when he rejoined his teammates on the practice field.
Ten months after suffering a spinal cord contusion that had endangered his NFL career, McClain returned to practice for the first time. McClain gained medical clearance last week when his latest magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed no more signs of the bruising damage sustained during a hit last December against the Washington Redskins.
“They tried to kill me, I’m not dead,” said McClain, who remains on the reserve-physically unable to perform list. “I’m still here, still doing what I love and fighting for this team.”
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McClain said he could barely sleep when he first learned Tuesday that he was going to be allowed to practice Wednesday. Countless rehabilitation sessions and months of patience were about to be rewarded.
“I was like a little kid,” McClain said. “I was tossing and turning, thinking about my first day of practice.”
During such a long convalescence, McClain had to deal with plenty of conflicting medical information and many questions about whether he would ever play again.
“There was so much negativity that I couldn’t afford to think negative,” McClain said. “All I could do was believe in myself and what I was capable of doing. Whether it was coming in as an undrafted free agent or coming back from an injury so many people thought I couldn’t come back from, I fought the odds. I always had belief in myself in a world of negativity.”
McClain is now eligible to be placed on the active roster as he enters a three-week window for a decision to be made on him. The Ravens can either activate him, place him on injured reserve or waive him. He's expected to eventually contribute to the defense in games.
McClain was listed on the injury report as a full participant in practice. The Ravens are expected to take a cautious approach and allow McClain more time to test himself in practice before determining his status going forward.
“We don’t know what that means for this week, next week or the week after,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We do know that it means within three weeks we have to make a decision about whether we put him on the 53-man roster.”
A starter for the past three seasons, McClain emphasized that he feels great physically while acknowledging there’s a significant amount of rust to shed.
“We all know the game is different watching it on film than being in the cleats,” McClain said. “I’ve got to get the groove for that with the team. If you ask me, I’m ready right now. The organization isn’t rushing me. The injury is gone. That’s past me.”
It remains unclear how McClain would be utilized once he's activated with Daryl Smith entrenched as the starting middle linebacker. Josh Bynes has been productive as the starting weak-side inside linebacker opposite Smith, but hasn’t generated big plays.
“I just fit in as a football player like I always fit in,” McClain said. “I’ll come in and play how I play when given the opportunity. I know I’ve got to come back and work just like everybody else comes back and works.”
Breaking through coverage, conversation
Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith doesn't traditionally engage in trash talking with opposing cornerbacks.
In the case of outspoken Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, though, Smith makes an exception. Taylor has a knack for drawing receivers into a running conversation.
“I haven't met anyone that talks as much trash as him,” Smith said. “When I get to play him, it's always pretty fun because I'm not a guy who talks, but he gets it out of me every single time."
Smith caught one pass for seven yards last season while being shadowed by Taylor during a Ravens win at Heinz Field. He caught three passes for 33 yards against the Steelers in a loss at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I have a lot of respect for him," Smith said. "Obviously, he's been one of the top corners in the game for a while. You know he's going to bring it, and you have to bring your 'A' game as well."